Shirley and James Forbes migrated from Scotland to Melbourne with their daughter Shirley in 1961. Tragic events resulted in the return to Scotland of mother and daughter two years later.
Life in Scotland
Sylvia Greening (born 1937) and James Forbes (born 1933) married in 1958. Both had grown up in the Shire of Aberdeen in Scotland: Sylvia in Aberdeen city and James in the small village of Blackburn. He was one of four brothers and a lorry driver by trade. Sylvia had worked at a paper factory in Aberdeen prior to her marriage. The couple had one daughter, Shirley, born in 1959.
Off to Australia
The couple, attracted by the proactive promotion of assisted migration to Australia, and with opportunities limited in Scotland, decided to migrate. They left on 8 July 1961 from Southampton (a three-day journey from Aberdeen) with James’ younger brother Harry on the Sitmar Line ‘Fair Sky’. They travelled via the Suez Canal and Shirley, only two years old at the time, remembers accidentally throwing her mother’s brand new bra out their cabin porthole!
They arrived in Melbourne and were sent immediately to Broadmeadows Hostel, Block G, Camp Road where they would stay for much of their stay in Australia (Sylvia is listed as living at 93 Alamein Road Heidelberg West on 26 June 1963). Another brother Alfred and his family followed soon after and settled in Adelaide. Sylvia recalls the time at the hostel quite fondly, despite the conditions, living for such a long time in a Nissen hut.
James obtained his Victorian Driver’s Licence on 25 August 1961 which would have been a priority for him in his line of work. Sylvia secured a job at the Ford Factory while James finally managed to get a job as a forklift driver (according to the family and as listed on the compensation claim form) for Stewarts & Lloyds (Australia) Pty Ltd, Stanton Pipes Division in Somerton on 6 December 1962. A Certificate of Service suggests that James had been employed as a labourer in their Finishing Department and that he left their employ in on 18 February 1963. He flew in 1963 (departure date unknown) to New Zealand, returning on 7 May 1963 (Tasman Empire Airways Ltd ticket) and returned into the employ of Stanton Pipes.
Tragically on 20 June 1963, James died from a cerebral haemorrhage, having sustained a head injury the day prior in an unspecified workplace in Parkville (according to his death certificate). James had been off work with a virus for about a month prior to the accident and was injured early in his first return shift. James was first brought to the family home at 6pm and then taken to hospital in an ambulance attended by Sylvia while Shirley stayed with a neighbour. Sylvia was left alone until told to return home by a waiting taxi and await news – at 6am the following morning three loud knocks at the door announced the camp supervisor to advise that James had died.
Sylvia had then to notify family in Scotland, and had only a week to make funeral arrangements, receive the family and bury James at the Fawkner Crematorium. There appears to have been some medical neglect involved in James’ case and the family does not appear to have received any government worker’s compensation payment. Sylvia did lodge a claim with Stewarts & Lloyds on 26 June 1963 and the form states that the employer denied liability pending investigation. The company did eventually make a payment (of either 200 or 2000 pounds according to the family). While attending court during the compensation claim, Sylvia stayed in Heidelberg West.
Sylvia was pregnant at this time but again, tragically, the baby died in the womb. She recalls having to pay the hospital for the baby’s burial but received no paperwork and to this day does not know where the baby was buried. Sylvia recalled other migrants at the Hostel (in particular Greek and Italian residents), urging her to remain in Australia and offering their support.
Sylvia decided to return to family with Shirley and departed on 18 September 1963 on the P&O-Orient Line ‘Stratheden’ at a cost of 238 pounds, 10 shillings. Sylvia recalls the fare having been covered by her private insurance. She returned to Blackburn to James’ parents and would later marry her brother-in-law Harry, who had also returned from Australia on the Cogedar Line ‘Flavia’ (a receipt for the fare on 144 pounds is dated 13 November 1963).
The couple had three children. Alfred Forbes, James second brother and his family had also migrated soon after James and they too, returned after Sylvia, with no family left in Australia. Sylvia recalls that James had been under pressure from his mother to return to Scotland – whether he would have returned or remained is unknown but it seems that if things had been different, Sylvia would have been happy to stay in Australia.
Shirley, only four years of age by this time, remembers little – her father’s peppermint-coloured car and his absence after he died as she had been very close to him. She grew up in Blackburn, married and had three daughters. Laura and Linsey obtained working holiday visas for Australia in 2014, with plans after six months to move on to New Zealand and then Canada. The eldest daughter Louise met up with the whole family in Sydney in November 2014 on holidays with Shirley returning to Australia for the first time since departing with her mother in 1963.
Shirley has no regrets and prefers a life in rural Scotland. Her daughters are perennial travellers and have no plans to settle in Scotland (nor in Australia although Linsey may consider a longer residence later in her career). Sylvia would have liked to return also if health had permitted. The Forbes women all identify as Scottish and feel no connection to Australia.